John Darwin faked his own death by pretending he drowned when out his canoe, but his dad
When John Darwin walked into a police station claiming he had amnesia after faking his own death, officers called his shocked family to tell them the unbelievable news.
Sons Mark and Anthony rushed to the London police station in December 2007 to be reunited with their beloved dad.
But their grandfather Ronnie, John’s father, had a more cutting reply when journalists arrived at his home in Blackhall Colliery, six miles north of Hartlepool, in County Durham, after the news broke.
It’s believed the couple had a difficult relationship before John went missing, although it’s not known why, which may explain his less than excited comments to the media.
In his book The Thief, His Wife and The Canoe, Mirror journalist David Leigh, who was dispatched to Panama to speak to Anne, reveals 90-year-old Ronnie’s reaction.
He writes that he said: “I always said to the police that there might be more to this than it appeared at first.
“When his canoe was found but he wasn’t, it didn’t seem right.
“He had ideas above his station. He had big dreams and ambitions, and I sometimes think he was in too much of a hurry to make money.”
And it wasn’t just Ronnie who had some strong opinions, with the book claiming that John’s aunt Margaret Burns added: “Most of the family believe that the trauma of nearly drowning was enough to make him lose his memory, but I’m not I’m sure.
“I’m a cynic. To be honest, I don’t believe he ever got his feet wet.”
In the book, David Leigh also reveals the first words John said to his son when they were reunited in the police station.
Five and a half years after the last time they were together, he kept up his lies that he was suffering from amnesia.
Mark said: “Oh my God, Dad!” to which John replied: “I can’t find your mam and the dogs anywhere.”
John and Anne’s story has been told in a new ITV show, which is named after David’s book.
The couple lied to their family, friends and even their sons about John being dead for five and a half years.
He lived secretly next door to the family home, sneaking back into the main house for meals and even shared a bed with Anne.
She collected his £250,000 life insurance policy to help pay off their massive debts.
The couple, who have since split, used some of the cash to try and start a new life in Panama, buying a £200,000 tropical estate.
However they were caught after posing for a photo in an estate agent office, with the shocking story being broken by The Mirror.
The Darwin sons, Mark and Anthony, were by far the biggest victims of the unbelievable scam, spending five years mourning their father unnecessarily.
“After the truth came out that we’d been living in Panama together, I continually wrote to Mark and Anthony to say, ‘I am so sorry. I really do love you’,” Anne explained to The Guardian.
“But they refused to see or talk to me. The first time I set eyes on them [afterwards] was at my trial when Mark was the first to testify against me. After he left the witness box, he only lifted his eyes floatingly to meet mine. I was totally shocked by how dark and full of anger they were. To see that was absolutely horrendous.”
Mark did decide to visit his mother in Low Newton Prison just after his trial, but their first encounter was short, stiff and formal.
However, they started to build bridges over subsequent visits and when Anne was released from prison in March 2011 after serving half of her sentence – two months after John left prison.
In 2018, Mark announced he had finally forgiven his mum but would certainly not trust his parents with financial matters.
Mark said: “I have forgiven her, to some degree, but I will never understand. Nor forget. I’ve even got over, to some extent, the gnawing need to know why. Why do it to us? Nothing can describe the kick in the teeth I felt when I discovered she had been in on the entire thing”
Mark, who lives in Hertfordshire with wife Flick and their two sons, said he could never do to his kids what his mother did to him but invited her on a family holiday to Spain.
He has been in contact with his father and when asked if he could ever forgive him, he simply replied: “Perhaps.”